Let’s Dance, Poem

The first time you read a new poem it’s like a first dance. You’ve spent so much time choreographing the steps, practicing the movements, pauses, turns. You’ve built an experience between the two of you that now brings you to this moment, ready to present yourselves publicly.

You have the audience anticipating what’s to come, a mixed crowd, coming with their own, varied understanding of anything and this reading. Maybe this poem is the first poem your read, or maybe it’s the last of your 10-12 min. slot. Maybe the audience already has an idea of what it is you have left to say.

Watching the dynamics change as you read, either new or old poems, is always intriguing. There are some that you know have tuned out many poems or poets ago, attempting still to appear alert and interested in the way you’ve just played with “space” or serial poems. And when you’re the last poet to read, you feel the weight of having to carry yourself and your poems through. Order, here, matters.

Recently, for me, this was exactly the case. As the last poet to read at a reading, I was charged with “bringing it home.” During the intermission I shifted and shifted and shifted my poems’ order, wanting to live up to my duty as The Last Poet to Read. Do I read the poem that ends “snapped broken on the ground” last or “touching everything that breaks” last? Both are great closing-liners, but the poems have such a tonal differences. Decisions. Light / heavy? Heavy / light? Is the light poem really light? Go with what you know. Go with what you know.

In the end, I decided to end with the rookie poem, the one that could go either way. It was a new style and a new tone, a venture into some sort of humor. Never considering myself to be humorous by nature, let alone poetically, I didn’t know how this one would fair. Leading up that moment I could tell the audience was ready for something to shift in my reading. The old standbys were not producing the expected reactions or moving of spirits. What would this last poem do? What if they don’t find it even awkwardly funny? Nonetheless, I pulled it out as I finished reading the poem before it and we started our dance.

The first few lines came, a few, small chuckles followed. The third and fourth line flowed out and then more laughs came, surprising and genuine. I continued to read and felt the air become lighter. I was breathing again. Who knew I could write a poem that could make others laugh?! Certainly not me. Did I discover some unknown crawlspace within myself filled with dusted, un-mined treasures? Maybe. Or maybe it was something else, something very simple. Maybe it was that this audience and this poem had their first dance. This was dance that didn’t belong to or, in some ways, even included me. Poems, whether new or old, are always a first dance with whomever is hearing them for the first time. During a reading, poems, whether new or old, are serious of first dances with whoever hears them for the first time and are touched or moved in some way.  These dances, ballroom-like, happen simultaneously and you as the poet are somewhere in the middle of it all as observer and orchestrator.

I tell my students that we do not choose to be poets, but that we are born poets. We have born with the purpose of telling the stories of those who cannot tell them themselves. Our words should touch, heal, or change something in someone. And so our poems are never meant to stay with us as our partners, but meant to go out to others and fall in rhythm where and with whom they are supposed to. I know this — but in the moments when I can actually see it happening, watch something move or shift in the air, it is so magical.  This reading showed me a new way that my poems can move, how they do move, and who they move with. I am so exited to take the news and run. Who knows though, the next time I read it, that finale poem may trip all of over the feet of the lady in the third row constantly adjusting her glasses or lose sync with the guy by the bar drinking his 3rd PBR Tallboy. Yet and still, I know that at lease one time that poem danced harmoniously with someone, and will do so again.

Apology to My Muse

Muse,

You and I have been estranged for far too long and I miss you. You remain with me, but as some shadow confined to a corner, turning only when called. I’ve been selfish, expected you to expect to know your place as supplier, misunderstood your true purpose and lost sight of my love for you. I was afraid of you and your power, the unconditional nature of your being. Your proximity to me made me uneasy every time I questioned whether or not I was capable of fulfilling our potential. My faith in you wavered and for that I am sorry. There can be no relationship if there is no trust.

I lost my way and have had trouble finding it back to you. So much has happened and perhaps I’ve built those capsules of moments and years around you to quiet your voice of expectations. I knew you were there. You were always there. You were close enough to call and I knew you would come, prepared to give. I rarely, if ever, replenished you in the way that was necessary, that demonstrated my love and appreciation for you. How disingenuine of me! There were times when I asked you to show yourself, a servant treasure to my art. You gave me what you could and reserved the rest.

I’ve neglected you for far too long. It is time to make things right. I will set aside my fears and learn to listen, to hear you and to trust you. Who knows me better than you?

Please forgive me. Stay.

 

 

Getting Back to Business

I’ve said this often, I am a terrible procrastinator. I’ve spent too much time (years really) attempting to either perfect every poem or simply find every excuse of why I cannot find the time to write. Every moment I look up and realize how much time has passed since I graduated grad school I get a little bit sad, a little bit disappointed with myself. I drench myself in thoughts of “I should have my book by now…,” “I should have published x amount of poems by now,” “I should be writing x amount of hours everyday,” “I haven’t written in so long how can I call myself a writer?” And so on and so on. In my mind I know that I have too long been my own worst critic, stopping myself before I’ve even started.

When I do find the time to sit down and write I remember how much I love it and how much I miss the excitement of finishing the draft of a poem, or the challenge of finding the right word to replace a general one, or rearranging lines and stanzas until it just feels right. It’s exhilarating. Yet once that session is done I do not return to the writing table for a long time. Insert excuses here. The list becomes longer and longer. I mask my insecurities about writing with the excuse that I do not have enough time. I’m too busy with tomorrow’s workload and meeting. I have to teach. I have to do this. I have to do that. Now that I have a child I have hit the mother load of excuses.

But the truth, as it always is, is that I do have the time to write. I have the talent to write. I have the love and the passion to write. I have the utensils to write and I have an abundance of books and music and such to inspire me to write. All I really need to do is remember the fun, remember the exhilaration of putting pen to paper (yes, Pen.To.Paper) and finding those infinite combinations of words that form my stories, my voice, the voices and stories of others. When I was a young writer that was my answer whenever I was asked why I enjoy writing. I was in aw of the infinite possibilities of combinations of words, of how no matter what words we use every day can be put together differently to make a new sentence, phrase, emotion, etc.

As writers we can reach a point, when get to the place of MFA’s and fellowships and publications, where we can lose touch with our younger writer selves who wrote because yes, we were angst-y, and in love, and broken-hearted, and happy, and all we wanted to do was the tell the world about it. When I’m with my students and they are performing their poems, or I’m listening to poems of other students I become nostalgic. I become so filled up with possibility and free-ness. Young writers are so free and un-hinged in a way that causes me to remember why I pursued writing in the first place, the days when I felt that if I wasn’t a writer then I didn’t know what I was meant to be on this Earth. A little melo-dramatic? Maybe. But true.

Somewhere along the way I started taking myself to seriously and between the fear of both failing and succeeding, and worse being mediocre. (Issues, right?) Once, I had a conversation with one of my professors about the fear of success. It’s crazy to think that anyone can be so afraid of being successful that it prevents them from pursuing their art. Tony Medina often mentioned the sadness of those writers who were great writers, but were so caught up in their fears that the only published one book or one body of work. In some ways I understand that fear, as odd it is. What if you do write something great and that one piece of work is your peak? How can you top the expectations of those who are waiting for you to do something else amazing? It sounds self-centered, but it’s a legitimate reserve for some writers. I can admit that I have read a work by a writer, watched a movie or show by a director, and the follow-up work was lackluster and I was disappointed in the second experience. Who am I to have that judgment? No one, really. Yet these are the types of thoughts writers allow to cripple them.

I don’t want to be one of those writers. I’m trying my best to be done with the excuses, to find myself mixed between not giving a fuck and giving a fuck, between youth and obligation. I am a writer and I want to be a great writer which includes a necessary discipline. I have the time to write. Housewives and Scandals (oh the guilty pleasures!) can wait. Someone, even if it’s only one, will like something I write. I have always said that if one person is influenced or touched by my writing then that’s all that matters, that I’ve done my job and I have to hold fast to that idea and hold myself accountable. I just have to have fun, again.